Rabbis Question Rubashkin Chanukah “Miracle”

Rabbis Question Rubashkin Chanukah “Miracle”

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Former Otisville inmate Sholom Rubashkin

On December 20, 2017, the eighth day of Chanukah, Sholom Rubashkin was released from the medium prison at Otisville.  I lived in the low security prison across the fence from Rubashkin.  I could see Rubashkin in the prison yard at times through the wire fence. 

I wasn’t in prison at the time of his release, but I am sure the non-Jewish prisoners felt that Rubashkin got special treatment because he was a Jew.  When I was locked up in Otisville the non-Jewish guards and inmates all felt that the Jews got preferential treatment.  This was because Jewish inmates got to celebrate Jewish holidays and got kosher food shipped in from the outside.  But Jewish inmates were thrown into solitary just as much as the goyim.  Jews were subjected to the same abuse as everyone else.  In prison guys didn’t need much to get them to start complaining.  They were already mad.  If they see a Jewish inmate get away with stealing a tomato they will complain about it. 

The Rubashkin family held a giant event in Boro Park this past Sunday to celebrate the one year anniversary of his release.  Rabbis in Boro Park and Crown Heights believe that the release of Rubashkin from prison was a miracle. But there are plenty of Rabbis who dissent from that opinion.  I take the side of Rabbis who believe in miracles.  I got into a debate with the dissenters recently.  The dissenters are wondering why G-d would grant a miracle to a convict.  A guy who was an aggressive cut throat businessman.  A guy who lied to get money from a bank.  A guy who hired illegal immigrants. 

I prayed for miracles every day when I was locked up.  Does G-d only answer the prayers of the truly righteous?  Do the tzadikim need G-d’s help?  I would think that the tzadikim are too humble to even ask G-d for anything for themselves.  Does G-d review your criminal record before He grants you a miracle?  Does G-d discriminate against felons?

Rubashkin got 27 years for a financial fraud case, a very high sentence for this type of crime. If he was in the Southern District he would have got ten, if that. The Federal judge who sentenced him is very harsh on all defendants before her, for example she gives 20 year old guys with child porn on their computer 20 years. There has to be a rational basis for locking someone away for a good part of his life. In Connecticut State court I represented a guy who stabbed two people, nearly killing them, the defendant had a record a mile long, and I worked out a deal where he got 9 years. You can get a lot less than 27 years for rape or murder in Connecticut.  The Feds are more draconian in their sentencing recommendations.

The dissenting Rabbis believe that Rubashkin should not be honored by the Jewish community and treated as a tzadik.  Yet, aside from popular rabbis, Jewish organizations regularly honor controversial figures and politicians in the name of fundraising, or for some other photo opportunity. Israel regularly honors Christian fundamentalists after they make large monetary donations to the Holy Land.  Jewish organizations honor disreputable politicians all the time.  Should Sheldon Adelson, a casino magnate, be honored? How about a Russian Jewish oligarch?  The Orthodox Union caused a tumult when they recently honored the biggest putz who ever passed the bar exam, ie., former Attorney General Jeff Sessions.

The dissenting Rabbis don’t believe it is appropriate for the Rubashkin family to celebrate his one year anniversary of his release with a block party in Boro Park.  I celebrate every year that I was released, to me it was a miracle.  I may not have Boro Park celebrating with me but what’s the difference?  If Boro Park ever wants to sponsor a block party for Larry Noodles, I will be on the next train to Brooklyn. 

The dissenting Rabbis are upset that Rubashkin didn’t make full restitution.  Rubashkin’s restitution was about $25 million.  Does Rubashkin even have $25 million to make restitution?   Rubashkin got 27 years for a $25 million loss.  I was locked up with Hassan Nemazee, a guy who stole $300 million from Citibank.  Nemazee got a 12 year sentence in the Southern District of New York.  Nemazee didn’t even rat anyone out, even though at the last minute he tried to snitch on his fellow countrymen in Iran.  Federal prosecutors thought it was joke and didn’t cut him a break.   Rubashkin is small latkes compared to the devious business practices of large corporations, big banks, Wall Street, hedge funds, the Trump organization, the Clinton Foundation, casino magnates, Russian oligarchs, Mark Zuckerberg, and all the rest of the reprobates, who caused the dot com bubble, the housing crash and the crash of the world economy in 2008. 

The dissenting Rabbis are wondering why Rubashkin didn’t apologize to his victims.  Many defendants grovel in front of their sentencing judge apologizing for what they did, I did it myself. I don’t think it means much. In Judaism what matters is action, what you do after you committed a sin. Is Rubashkin committing new crimes? I know plenty of guys who got out and immediately started to commit new crimes.  Moshe Butler is headed back to Otisville.  He started committing new crimes the day he got released.  His buddy Russell Lockenwitz also was sent back to Otisville.  Russell started selling drugs and threatening new victims the day he got released.

Rubashkin survived 9 years of a life threatening situation.  My life was in danger and I was in the Otisville camp. I got strangled when my bunkie held me in a head lock, I couldn’t breathe. Prison is a dangerous place. Guys lose their minds.  It’s an insane asylum. Guys can go nuts and kill you in your sleep with the ‘ol lock in a sock. You put your padlock, which locks your locker, into a sock and whip it like a sling shot on a guy’s head when he is asleep. Prison medical care is horrible. I had a kidney stone at midnight.  I thought I was going to die.  I never had a kidney stone before.  It took the guards a couple of hours to agree to take me to the hospital. I was only locked up for 18 months in the low security camp with mostly non violent guys.  Rubashkin was locked up for 9 years with gang bangers. I’m sure he had to pay off guys for protection and personal safety, but you never know when a guy is going to snap and you become collateral damage.

I will now be taking a vote for whether the Rubashkin release was truly the hand of G-d:

Miracle, YES!

Miracle, NO!

Moschiach, NOW

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4 thoughts on “Rabbis Question Rubashkin Chanukah “Miracle”

  1. Fascinating. I had very much been on the side of the dissenting rabbis, but the points you raise here are making me stop and see the Rubashkin story from a new perspective. I still don’t see Rubashkin as a tzaddik, for he did some pretty nasty things either deliberately or through criminally negligent stupidity. Yet, I very much appreciate the insights on imprisonment that you have opened up here, and, as an orthodox Jew, I appreciate how you have linked this experience to chasdei Hashem, the hand of God acting upon human lives. I feel much more tolerant and understanding of the Boro Park block party held for him now, although I still feel that the miracle of release does not make Rubashkin a hero to be admired.

    1. I never stated that Rubashkin was a tzaddik. You don’t have to be a tzaddik or a Jew for that matter to receive miracles. I haven’t read anywhere that members of Rubashkin’s immediate family ever referred to him as a tzaddik. None of the public announcements for the Rubashkin rallies held over the last year ever referred to Rubashkin as a “tzadik.” A man of strong faith, a walking mussar sefer. There are plenty of people in Crown Heights and Boro Park who use the word “tzaddik” to describe Rubashkin, but the word “tzaddik” these days has been watered down anyway, anyone who is kind and honest is a tzadik, much like Noach was a tzadik for his generation, but had Noach lived in a different generation… There are plenty of “tzadikim” who will take your money and give you a bracha, I went to one to keep me from getting sentenced to prison. I should get a refund. A lot can be learned from Rubashkin: crime, punishment, faith, teshuva, miracles, mussar. Who better than Rubashkin to teach these lessons?

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